Familiar Songs - Their Authors & Histories

300 traditional songs, inc sheet music with full piano accompaniment & lyrics.

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A WET SHEET AND A FLOWING SEA.                                        137
The name of Allan Cunningham, author of the song which follows, suggests one of the pleasantest characters among the producers of lyric poetry. He was born at Black­wood, in Nithside, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, December 7,1784. At the time of his birth, his father was a land-steward. His mother was a lady of fine accomplishments. Allan was the fourth of eleven children, and, after an elementary education, was apprenticed to an older brother, who was a stone-mason. Every spare moment was spent in poring over books, or listening to the legends that his mother knew how to set forth picturesquely.
A little river divided the lands which his father superintended, from the farm of Burns; and the young Allan received indelible impressions from the poet who patted his childish head. The Ettrick Shepherd, too, was feeding his master's flock on the hills near by. Allan had long admired him in secret, and one day, with his brother James, he started to pay his hero a visit. It was on an autumn afternoon, and the shepherd was watching his sheep on the great hill of Queensbury, when he saw the brothers approaching. James stepped forward and asked if his name was Hogg, saying that his own was Cunningham. He turned toward Allan, who was lingering bashfully behind, and told the shepherd that he had brought to see him " The greatest admirer he had on earth, himself, a young, aspiring poet of some promise." Hogg received them warmly, and they passed a lively afternoon. From that time, Hogg was a frequent visitor at the Cunningham's. Before this time, Mr. Cunningham had died, and the young Allan was giving his whole strength to assist in the support of the family. Busy as he was, he could write little, but he read at every opportunity. " The Lay of the Last Minstrel" appeared, and Allan saved his pennies until he had the vast sum of twenty-four shillings to invest in the poem, which he com­mitted to memory. When "Marmion" was published, he was wild with delight, and could not restrain himself until he had travelled all the way to Edinburgh to look upon the marvelous poet. Arrived there, he was patiently walking back and forth before Scott's house, when he was called from the window of the one adjoining. A lady of some distinc­tion, from his native town, had recognized his face. He had but just told her his desires, when the bard came pacing down the street, absently passed his own door, and ascended the steps of the house whence his enthusiastic admirer was watching him. Scott rang, was admitted,—or rather stepped directly in as the door was opened, but started back at the unfamiliar sight of a row of little bonnets, and beat a hasty retreat. He afterward spoke with the greatest warmth of Cunningham's poetry, and always called him "honest Allan."
When Cunningham was twenty-five years old, and had published a few beautiful poems, Mr. Cromek, the London engraver and antiquarian, visited Scotland, and was sent to Allan Cunningham, as just the one to assist him in his search for "Reliques of Burns." He asked to see some of Allan's writings. The pedantic antiquary gave a little grudging praise, but advised him to collect the old songs of his district, instead of writing new stuff. An idea shot into the poet's brain, and in due time a package labelled "old songs," reached Cromek. The antiquary was charmed, and urged Allan to come to London to superintend the forthcoming volume, which he did. The collection of quaint and beautiful verse made a decided impression. Hogg, John Wilson, and other discerning critics saw the clever deception, but Cromek did not live to have his confidence in himself and human nature shaken by " honest Allan."
After Cromek's death, Cunningham was obliged to return to his stone-mason's craft, and he is said to have laid pavement in Newgate street, Edinburgh. He made an unsuc­cessful attempt at newspaper reporting, and then obtained a situation in the studio of the eminent English sculptor, Francis Chantry, then just beginning his career in London. Ho

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III